Feb. 24, 2020

Imaging centre celebrating 15 years

Ken Stephenson’s foundational gift continues to help shape landscape of cardiac care within the Libin Institute

It didn’t take long to convince Ken Stephenson that creating a home in Calgary for cardiovascular imaging was a worthwhile undertaking. 

The instant the shrewd Calgary businessman saw the image of a beating human heart projected on a high-resolution screen, he was hooked. 

And for the 15 years since that fateful meeting at the Calgary Petroleum Club with cardiologist and cardiac magneetic resonance imaging visionary Dr. Neil Filipchuk, MD, fellow philanthropist Bud McCaig, and Eva Friesen of the Calgary Health Trust, Stephenson has been a key piece of the beating heart behind the Stephenson Cardiac Imaging Centre at Foothills Medical Centre in partnership with the Cumming School of Medicine and Alberta Health Services. 

“I see this beating heart and I just loved it. Even as a layman I could understand what I was seeing. Seeing the heart beating, it just resonated with me,” says Stephenson in his downtown office, where the philanthropist and entrepreneur continues to work passionately at age 86. “I could see on that screen that day what the possibilities were. And so I decided right then I was going to do it. I was going to raise the money needed.”

Generously contributing $1 million of his own funds as a foundational gift to build the Centre back in March of 2005, Stephenson was just as important as a fundraiser — bringing in another $2M from friends and associates and $1M from the Foothills Foundation Lottery on the recommendation of Dr. Chen Fong, MD. Support from the community has exceeded more than $8M since the Centre’s opening, and Stephenson just recently donated another $1M through UCalgary to the Centre bearing his name.

“I am proud that, together with the wonderful support of my donors, I have been able to keep the Centre financed with philanthropy over 15 years,” says Stephenson. “The Centre’s great success would not be possible without the outstanding capabilities and dedication of the Centre’s researchers, clinicians and support staff, all under the extremely capable direction of Dr. James White, the Director of the Centre. James makes things happen, a critical contribution to the success of the Centre. I am most grateful for the wonderful contributions of our team.”

Those working at the Centre are equally appreciative of the support. 

“I am grateful to Ken Stephenson for redefining my perspectives on giving, and how it can achieve large-scale and sustained impact,” says Dr. White. “Over the years, Ken’s generosity and passion have seeded scientific discoveries, catalyzed innovation and enabled great ideas to grow into global success stories.”

The first program of its kind in Canada, the Stephenson Centre as part of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute established Cardiac MRI as a pillar of cardiac care in southern Alberta. 

Over the last decade and a half, it has grown into one of the most innovative environments for translational clinical research, the training of physicians and researchers and delivering world-class imaging services in Calgary. 

“The Stephenson Centre is a shining example of what is possible through partnership between philanthropic individuals, the university and the health authority,” says Dr. Todd Anderson, MD, former director of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute. “The success of the Centre over the past 15 years is astounding and has been catalyzed by the ongoing dedication that Mr. Stephenson brings to the project. He is a pillar of our society and a great friend to myself and the entire medical community.”

With a satellite at the South Health Campus, the Centre performs nearly 4,000 cardiac MRI studies each year in addition to research studies and collaborations in Alberta and around the world. 

Experts are influencing therapy in patients with early heart disease, guiding imaging in routine patient care and are now poised toward predicting and preventing sudden cardiac death in those with heart rhythm defects. 

“We’re in a whole new era of diagnostics,” says Stephenson, a hint of both excitement and pride in his voice as he talks about the Centre’s work in improving quality of life for people with cardiovascular issues. “We’re going to be able to, with more research, predict heart failure, sudden death and atrial fibrillation. We can be more prepared for what’s coming.”

The future of imaging lies in more personalized medicine that includes genomics and proteomics — the study of genes and the proteins in cells — and data that, through machine learning, can lead to predictors of disease and distress in patients.  

“The promise of the Libin Institute to lead the world in precision cardiovascular medicine will be achieved by integrating the incredible potential of the Stephenson Centre with our world-class clinicians. The Stephenson Centre is the cornerstone of our vision for the future of precision cardiovascular health,” says Dr. Paul Fedak, director of the Libin Institute.  

If Stephenson were to have the same meeting at the Petroleum Club today, the screen would show much more than the beating heart, it would provide a plethora of information not imagined in 2004. Making every effort to truly understand the complicated work that took place under the leadership of original director Dr. Matthias Friedrich and now White, Stephenson is better equipped to talk with fellow philanthropists on the needs of the Centre and its future. 

“You have to understand what you’re raising money for, and really have your heart and soul in it. I have, for 15 years,” says Stephenson. “I just feel very responsible for the Centre and want it to continue to be successful in providing leading edge diagnostics to its patients and beyond.”

Its success, by all measurements, is evidenced by the care people in Calgary receive — made possible by the great clinicians and scientists who collaborate at the Centre. 

“His support has allowed the Stephenson Cardiac Imaging Centre to become the largest of its kind in North America. This has enabled unprecedented care for Albertans and growth of an innovative research program focused on personalized medicine,” says White. “I consider Ken to be a pioneer in the philanthropic community who uniquely demonstrates how investing emotionally can dramatically amplify the impact of investing financially.”